A Travellerspoint blog

Day Four - into the regions

Thurs 3 June 2010

93 °F

Today was the day when we would be leaving the big city and getting out into the regions. Before we left, Lia, Violet's daughter came round to give us some maps and wish us well on our journey. She works for Armenia Travel and has helped to organise our visit.

The route we took was towards the north into the district of Lori. It was quite a long drive through grassy plains - slowly getting higher in altitude. The first big town that we drove through was Spitak which was close to the epicentre of the 1988 earthquake and was completely destroyed. Between Spitak and the regions 'capital' Vanadzor, there were miles and miles of abandoned factories from the Soviet era. Apparently there had been fabric, metal, stone factories all through the valley but none are working anymore. It's quite eerie to see so many empty buildings. I just cannot imagine what will happen to them. It would probably cost a fortune to knock them down and reuse the stone. If it was the UK someone would have turned them into luxury flats - that definitely won't be happening here. As we moved out of the capital we could see how a lot of people live in the rural areas. Many grow their own vegetables and keep animals. Their houses are patched up and people seem to be quite resourceful in how they recycle old furniture, cars etc to make a gate, a shelter - I saw a house made of what looked like the metal container used for transporting fuel on lorries.

After Vanadzor the valley starts to change and becomes v-shaped and wooded - quite a contrast to the grassy plains nearer Yerevan. The river was also swift moving - it really looks as if its in a hurry and can't stop. I don't think I've seen a river that doesn't have slow, deeper sections. This river was relentless. Our first tourist stop was a visit to Kobayr Monastery which was reached by a narrow path flanked by small cottages. We had a great view from up there - there was also an interesting cave behind the church but we didn't venture that far. A lot of the churches are built close to the edges of gorges and this was no exception.

We found a nice cafe on the road - again the food was great. It's fantastic to have Saro with us as he makes sure we get vegetarian food. I am trying lots of different tabbouleh salads so that I can discover the ultimate version. I am so taken with this food - there are lots of dishes I have never tried before and would love to be able to get the recipes - maybe a future project.

After lunch we headed up to take in two monasteries - Haghpat and Sanahin - apparently the latter means, older than over there - meaning Sanahin monastery is older than Haghpat. If you strain your eyes its possible to see one from the other. Sanahin town is extraordinary - its perched right on the edge of the cliff. There is a cable car linking the main road to Sanahin - we were quite tempted - we like a good cable car.

Finally, we arrived at our homestay - Daravant in Dilijian. It was absolutely beautiful. I would recommend it to any fellow travellers going that way. Razmik the owner is a carpenter and has built some of the wooden parts of the house. Before we knew it we were sharing beers with Ginny from the US and her driver Arthur. When we ate we were also joined by a couple and their friend from Belgium. Amazing food and great company. There were a few toasts with vodka and I also managed to have a cup of tea and an icecream at the same time. Bliss!

Posted by Cath_Greig 11:07 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Day Three - our first monastery

Wed 2 June 2010

sunny 77 °F

Trying to keep this blog up-to-date is easier said than done - we are now in the regions so hard to get to a computer with fast internet connection. Disappointingly this computer won't recognise my camera memory stick so still no photos. That might have to wait until we are back in Yerevan.

Anyway, on Wednesday morning we were due to visit our very first monastery - Saghnovasank. Saro, our lovely driver picked us up at 9am and we set off for our first trip out of the city towards the Mount Aragats which still had snow on them. As we left the city we were struck by the sight of a palatial (and extremely tasteless) house only 5 minutes away from the run down tower blocks from the Soviet era. Once I can get photos up on here you will see what I mean about the tacky mansion. When I tried to take a photo a few heavies came out of the gate in a menacing fashion (or it could be my imagination). Apparently the house is owned by an Armenian oligarch.

Soon we were at Saghmosavank church where we met the priest who told us some of the history of the church with Saro as translator. We were also blessed by the priest - those who know us well, please don't snigger. We have a photo of the priest flanked by Les and myself which will be up here (eventually).

From here we travelled to Amberd Fortress stopping briefly to view sculptures of Mashtot's alphabet. While we were there an elderly man appeared from behind the rocks with his video camera. It turns out he was left behind by his tour bus. Neither his wife or brother had spotted he was missing - we could only assume they were hoping to be shot of him!

Amberd is a pretty amazing place with great views over the valley. Les and Saro scrabbled up to the fortress itself and stood on the walls. The vertigo kicked in and I couldn't get myself up the slope. From here we took another route down to Yerevan. It was interesting to be somewhere hot with snow still on the ground. Not that it will last long - it's melting and filling the rivers - most of which seem to be moving very, very fast.

Once back in Yerevan after a short rest we ventured out again to get lunch and look for an internet cafe. We settled on the cafe next to Melody which we'd gone to the day before. We ordered beet salad and when it came it looked remarkably like meat. I realised that they must have misspelt the menu as it was actually BEEF salad. After this we found the the Moscow Cinema which has an internet place in it. We were intrigued to see if there were any english language films but it looks as if we will have to go and watch Iron Man 3D in Russian! I'm sure it won't make a huge amount of difference.

We have been finding that although it is very hot in the midday we have tended to have a bit of a 'siesta' time between about 5 - 7pm, reading and napping so that we are fresh for our evening meal. The temperatures have been getting higher hitting about 85F in the City. We decided to go local and ate at Caucasus which was round the corner from our Homestay. A huge menu - it took about 15 minutes to read through it. We had the most delicious dolma - stuffed pepper with carrot. It was really good. The food so far has been fantastic apart from the beet/beef salad!

Posted by Cath_Greig 10:38 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

Day two -around Yerevan

The Genocide memorial & museum

86 °F

Saro, our driver, arrived at 9am to take us out to the Genocide Museum. He speaks really good english and is very knowledgable about Yerevan. We set out across the city and the traffic was horrendous. There is no way that I could have driven around the city. Pedestrian crossings don't seem to mean anything to drivers so anyone trying to cross takes their life in their hands. We managed to make it to the memorial - it is a very important place for Armenians with a tall spire symbolising the Armenian people and their spiritual rebirth - it has a deep cleft that shows the separation of the western and eastern armenians. Further along there is a circle of stones leaning inwards around an eternal flame. Hard to explain but when I get photos uploaded it might become clearer. The museum was very informative but tragic - it made for very difficult reading and the photographs of the corpses and starving people were not easy to witness. I can't believe that the UK government have not recognised the genocide - I will be writing to Dawn Primarolo on my return.

We also visited Matenadaran - a museum of ancient manuscripts and containing the smallest bible in the world. Outside was a statue of Mashtots, the man who created the armenian alphabet. Sad to say, I only managed to learn 3 of the letters before coming away!

We discovered when we went for a coffee with Saro, that it was children's day in Yerevan and all of the kids were off school. We were next to a stage which, when we went back later, was filled with traditional armenian dancers. They must have been really, really hot as the temperatures were reaching over 30C. We visited the Cafesjian Gallery which is integrated into the Cascade - a huge edifice with fountains and water running out of different pipes. The gallery was rather good - not too much on show making it easier to take things in. There were some pieces of Arshile Gorky's work - none of the big canvasses that we had seen at Tate Modern. One of my favourites was the model of the Corsair II ship made by an English engineer. It was amazing.

In the evening we ate at Sayat-Nova which is quite close to where we are staying. A nice setting and pretty good food but the waiters were very slow. We couldn't help but notice that we were the only people drinking alcohol - most people seem to be drinking coffee, coke or eating ice-cream.

Posted by Cath_Greig 04:42 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

First Day

Arriving in Yerevan

sunny 80 °F

We arrived at 5.30am Armenia time which is 4 hours ahead of the UK. We were met by our driver Saro - it was pouring with rain which was a bit worrying. We were taken to our Homestay accommodation where we met Viva. Our brother Rod stayed with her daughter Lia when he came over 4/5 years ago. As it was about 2am for us in english time, we decided to have a sleep first so that we didn't feel too dreadful during the day. After a nap we got up and had 'breakfast' with our host. It's interesting trying to communicate when neither party can speak the other's language. We try and speak with sign language which has been successful so far but hard to get any nuances across. Viva is keen for us to share her love of biscuits and cakes but we are doing our best to resist.

We had a little explore of the area in the afternoon & again a litttle later in the evening. Where we are staying is very central - 2 mins from Republic Square- we would love to have been there for Eurovision - it was probably packed around the fountains. Apparently we arrived at the airport at the same time as the singers who were part of the Armenian entry which explained why it was so busy at 5ish in the morning.

A lot of cafes have wi-fi so was able to connect up the iphone to download a few bits of info. We walked quite a distance - discovering the so called green belt which has been covered in cafes. We bought some bits from the supermarket deli and had a picnic. Unfortunately there wasn't anywhere nice enough to sit down on the ground but we found a bench in the shade. We got some strange looks so I guess this isn't a normal activity.

When we went back in the evening, we couldn't find our apartment block. In the dark every door looked the same and the numbers weren't clear at all. Usually I have a good sense of where I am but my radar was totally off beam. Nothing a good night's sleep shouldn't fix.

Posted by Cath_Greig 16:16 Archived in Armenia Comments (0)

In transit

Praha airport

After a smooth & incident free journey we now have a four hour wait until our flight to Yerevan. Terminal 4 at Heathrow was virtually empty due to BA industrial action(I assume). Wished we'd timed our holiday with eurovision-there seemed to be big celebrations in Yerevan. Going to be dead by the time we get there - 4 hours difference & we arrive at 5.15am Armenia time. Very stuffy in the airport-we are hermetically sealed. Why can't more airports have a meditation garden like Aarhus. Tempted to get a massage just to while away the time. The restaurant here looks remarkably similar to a school canteen but there is a nice looking place called Nude that serves fresh looking food. Just need to get some Czech money!

Posted by Cath_Greig 09:12 Archived in Czech Republic Comments (0)

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